Porsche & Why Racing Matters

The element of racing is essential to the creation of better-performing vehicles, whether that performance is measured in speed or efficiency.

Most people in this industry have an interest in motorsports to a varying degree.  Yet that degree is never zero.  If you’re going to be involved in designing, engineering, making, or supervising the development of cars, trucks and even the components that go into them, you have a bit of fuel in your blood and are likely, at the very least, to pause while running through the TV channels when a race of some kind appears, or at the very most, you’ve managed to get yourself assigned to a racing program in some way, shape or form.

Over the years I’ve talked to numerous people who work for OEMs and suppliers who are affiliated with racing programs.  Invariably, there is a point made that the pressures of racing result in a different mindset that can be brought back to the office or factory, a mindset where speed matters.

Another thing that comes up is technology.  And again, racing often teaches people how to do things quickly and technologically, often with comparatively limited resources.  (As for that last point: No, I’ve not talked to a whole lot of people working on Formula One programs.)

But one of the most fascinating explanations of the intersection of race cars and street cars comes from an interview with Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, 45, Head of Porsche Motorsport, who is responsible for the worldwide GT motorsport activities and for GT production sports cars.

Listen:

“The transfer of technology is important and Porsche is one of the few sports car manufacturers that doesn’t do this for marketing reasons. Motorsport is an essential driving force behind new technologies. An example: We contest GT racing with restrictors, in other words the air intake of the engines is restricted. If I want a lot of power this can only be achieved through reducing internal friction and a high level of efficiency. We’ve gained a lot of experience over recent years, especially with the normally aspirated engine, and you notice this one-to-one with our road-going engine. A great deal of ideas flow from motor racing into our production cars. The lateral air intakes, for instance, were tried in the GT race car and then transferred to the 911 GT3 RS. The same goes for the aerodynamic components like the position and size of the rear wing. The central front air vent and various efficiency measures in the engine, for example the high-rev concept, come from the race car. Because it’s the very same employees who build the road-going and race vehicles, a kind of natural technology transfer takes place. The colleagues do not forget what they did on the race car, but carry this know-how over to the street car and try out things they believe might also work.”

Walliser went on to note how there is tech transfer from production cars to motorsports, citing the example of direct injection.  What’s more, he emphasized that there needs to be coordination and cooperation between groups from both sides: “The intensive exchange between colleagues from motorsport and production development is everyday practice for us. In the motorsport department we have a great interest, of course, in ensuring that as many components as possible are realized in the basis car. In turn, the colleagues from production development are keen to participate in the experiences from motor racing and adopt appropriate measures into the production car.”

In the case of Porsche, at least, better race cars can result in better road cars.

While it is easy to imagine how a GT race car can become a 911 GT3 RS, realize that Porsche also produces SUVs: stylish though they may be, Macans and Cayennes are not 911s or Boxsters.  However, through June, the truck part of the brand sold more than the car side in the U.S., 14,251 vs. 10,887.

It is that superb engineering and execution that are essential to what a Porsche is, whether it is racing or taking kids to soccer practice.

And arguably, the element of racing is essential to the creation of better-performing vehicles, whether that performance is measured in speed or efficiency.